It's our joy this morning, in our study of God's Word, to return to Philippians chapter 1. And I want you to take your Bible now with me and look to Philippians chapter 1. We're going to launch into a brand new paragraph of thought in Paul's writing, verses 12-26. We could call this section "The Joy of Ministry" because that really is its theme. Verse 18, which is set in the middle of the section, is really the keynote. At the end of the verse he says, "I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice." And that statement is set against Paul's apparent difficult, almost disastrous, circumstance. He will rejoice. He will continue to rejoice in the ministry God has given to him in spite of the difficulties.
It's going to take us a few weeks to move through these verses because they are so rich and so instructive. And I confess to you that I have rejoiced in my own heart at the timing of the Lord, who is taking me through this section at a time when trials are coming in my life. And I am in great need of learning the things that the apostle Paul has to teach by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit - the joy of ministry.
Now I have always believed that the measure of a person's spiritual character, the measure of their spiritual strength, and the measure of their spiritual maturity is what it takes to steal their joy. At whatever point your joy breaks down, that's the level of your spiritual strength. You can find out how mature you are, how Spirit-controlled you are, how spiritually virtuous you are by finding the breaking point where joy is lost and bitterness and negativism, critical spirit, sullenness begins to creep in and take over your life. The measure of your joy is how you react not to things the way you'd like them to be but to things the way you wouldn't like them to be.
It's important for us to note that joy is the fruit of the Spirit-controlled life, according to Galatians 5, and that we are to rejoice always as Paul tells us a couple of times: once in 1 Thessalonians - at least - and once in Philippians, over in chapter 4. We are commanded to rejoice all the time in all things, in all circumstances, and that is what the Spirit of God produces, so there really should be no breaking point. There should be no point in the life of a believer where joy is forfeited to sullenness, bitterness, negativism because of some things that aren't the way we'd like them to be. There's only one justification for the loss of joy, and that is sin. And when you have fallen into sin, you will need to cry out with the psalmist, "Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation." But nothing short of sin should steal our joy, certainly not circumstances. And yet typically - I mean typically for everyone - a sudden change in conditions, a sudden change in circumstances in our lives, great difficulties - confusion, trials, hard times, attacks, disagreements, unfulfilled ambitions, unmet desires, conflicts, strained relationships, unrealistic expectations unmet - all of these things can throw us off balance and joy is forfeited and bitterness takes its place.
Now we need to know, to begin with, that we ought to expect trouble and we ought to expect difficult circumstances. Jesus said “in the world you'll have trouble” (John 16:33) - expect it. James said that trouble comes in order to make you perfect. It has a divine purpose, so expect it and expect that God has a purpose for it which is good. He has profound purposes in our affliction, profound purposes in our trials and difficulties, and one of them is not to take our joy. Now obviously the key to maintaining joy is to have perspective, to understand what's going on, and to yield to the Spirit of God and not be overtaken by the difficulty.
Paul becomes for us a larger-than-life model of this because he is a man whose joy knew no breaking point. There was never a time that I can find in the New Testament when the circumstances in Paul's life impacted his joy. In fact, it seems to us that he has almost a fighting-back mentality - the greater the struggle, the greater the trial, the more insistent he is to articulate his joy. He is indeed larger than life as a living illustration of the perfect combination of severe affliction mingled with supreme joy.
Now let me remind you of his circumstance as he writes this epistle about joy. He is a prisoner in Rome. For a number of years he had longed to go to Rome. In Romans 1 he said, "I, I am ready to come to Rome and preach the gospel." At the end of the epistle to the Romans he said, "I want to come to Rome and set up a base so that I can go from you to Spain." His heart leaped into Europe. He wanted desperately to touch that great citadel of paganism, Rome, and to even move from there on out. And now he was there. That long-time desire had come to pass, and he was in Rome.
However, he was not there in the conditions which he would have designed for himself. When he desired to go to Rome, according to Romans 1:10, he said, "I hope to have a prosperous journey to come to you." But that's not the way it worked out. He didn't come in a prosperous way; he came as a prisoner. And the journey was not without its tremendous difficulty because the ship he was on was wrecked, and he had to swim for his life at the end. He did not have the prosperous journey he might have wished or anticipated, but rather had come as a prisoner.
The record of this whole scenario is given to us, starting in Acts 21, right through 28 - that whole last quarter of Luke's great treatise on the development of the early church deals with Paul and how he finally wound up in Rome. The whole ordeal began in Acts 21:17. Paul came back to Jerusalem from his third missionary journey, and wanting still to affirm himself to the Jewish people as one who loved them and who was true to that which was true in Judaism, he went to the temple to carry out a ceremony with another man. And when he reached the temple he was immediately set upon by a wild mob who accused him of speaking against the Law and against the Word of God and against the temple. And they would have lynched him or stoned him on the spot except that he was rescued by those who took him to prison. He was in prison not so much as punishment for anything he had done, but as protection for what the crowd might do to him because they were so hostile against him for preaching the gospel of the very Christ that had been executed as a criminal.
So, you find him in chapter 22 incarcerated. They are afraid, that is, the Romans are afraid to let him go because the crowd is so hostile against him. They're afraid of the political ramifications of having Paul run loose that it could cause foment in their occupied territory of Israel; so they keep him incarcerated. There are a few hearings that he finally has before governors Festus and Felix, and even an audience with Herod. But nothing is ever decided in his case, and so for two years he languishes in Caesarea as a prisoner. (Caesarea being the city where the Roman army was garrisoned, which occupied that land.) He became the object of unfair and cruel insults. He became the object of shame, the object of lies. There had been even a plot on his life of which he was warned, and by God's grace was spared an early death. Finally, Rome must do something with him. He appeals to Caesar to have his case heard, and after two years of languishing in that Caesarean prison he's dispatched on a ship to Rome.
When he arrives at Rome after the shipwreck, he is destined to spend another two years as a prisoner. And it is in this, his second two-year imprisonment - one in Caesarea, now one in Rome - that he writes what are known as the prison epistles, Philippians being one of them. He has been given a preliminary hearing. Apparently when he received the initial opportunity to be heard in Rome there was a hearing set up at which time he defended himself. Perhaps alluded to in verse 7 where he mentions his imprisonment and the defense and confirmation of the gospel. He no doubt at his first defense spoke of the fact that he believed in Christ, and that the One whom the Jews had executed as a criminal was none other than the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and that he was called to preach that gospel and was unequivocally committed to that. So after a first hearing he is kept prisoner until Nero makes up his mind, and months and months are passing by while he waits to hear whether Nero is going to call for his execution or his release.
The conditions of his imprisonment are quite interesting. And although he is definitely a prisoner, he has some unusual circumstances in his imprisonment. For those let me ask you to turn to the twenty-eighth chapter of Acts. And you have in this final section of this great book insight into Paul's circumstance. Verse 16 of Acts 28 says, "And when we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself with the soldier who was guarding him." He was not put in a common prison with the rest of the prisoners. I imagine that would have been a little bit difficult to do since there seemed to be no crime which he had committed - no real legal issue was facing him. And not wanting, perhaps, to throw him in with criminals since there was no real criminal charge, but at the same time wanting to adjudicate the matter before they made any decision to release him, they let him be a private prisoner with a soldier by himself. And where was this? Follow down to verse 20, “For this reason, therefore,” he says, “I requested to see you and speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.” He was not only a prisoner in a private situation with a guard, but that guard was chained to him. He was chained to a guard. In fact, he was chained to a guard twenty-four hours a day. According to the Roman custom, the guards would change every six hours. So he would have four different men chained to him over a period of a day, at all times, so he could not escape.
You will notice also in verse 23 that we get a little more insight into his condition. It says that the people who came to him - a group of Jews – “came to him at his lodging,” “at his lodging.” He was given a private house in which he could stay, chained to a Roman soldier. And there he would have at least the freedom of people coming to him, if indeed he could not go to them, so that he might preach and teach. You will notice down in verse 30 it tells us further that “he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” Chained to a soldier, but unhindered in preaching. A prisoner and yet a prisoner in a rented house so that people had access to him. That is his condition.
It's an unimaginable thing to think of in one sense. The wonderful freedom that he had known, the journeys that he had taken, the ability to go and found churches and go back and strengthen churches, the ability to train leaders, to be on the move, to carry that apostolic commission to its fullest was now at an end. He did not even have the solitude that a man of God so craves in which he can find his solace in the private presence of the One he loves and serves. Even the little tasks of life he knew no privacy in, for he was forever and always chained to a Roman soldier. He slept chained to a Roman soldier. He wrote chained to a Roman soldier. He ate chained to a Roman soldier, ever and always.
Now it had been about four years since the Philippians had really heard any word about him. The two two-year imprisonments had isolated him from them. And somehow the word had wafted down to Philippi that he was in Rome a prisoner. And because they loved him so deeply and there was such a unique bond between Paul and the Philippian church, of which we spoke earlier in the series, they're very compassionate and sympathetic toward him. And they want to know what his condition is. So in order to find out they send a man by the name of Epaphroditus, who was from their congregation, and he goes to Rome to find Paul to learn two things: “What is your condition, and what is the condition of the gospel? How are you doing and how is the gospel doing?” Those were the two things that burdened their hearts.
They send him, with Epaphroditus, a gift of money. The money was for his support, and Epaphroditus was to be his friend. They wanted him to have a companion, and they wanted him to have resources so he could continue to live. But they also wanted word back on how he was doing because their hearts were grieving over his condition and the condition of the gospel and the fear that it was being hindered because of his imprisonment.
So Philippians is written, then, in response to that. It is sent back to the Christians at Philippi to inform them of Paul's condition and the condition of the gospel. And the theme is joy. He wants them to know that in spite of the circumstances, he rejoices. He experiences joy. Why? Because though his conditions are not what they would perhaps want them to be, nor what he would want them to be, the gospel is going forward. The letter, then, is intended really to confirm joy in the ministry - joy in the ministry, in spite of great affliction. Tremendously helpful, helpful theme, and it becomes to us, then, a marvelous testimony of how this man is able in the midst of great trial to deal with his trial in joy.
Now the key is to - notice in verse 18 this line, "I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice." Underline that in your Bible because that's what he wants them to know. He has a heart for them too. He doesn't want them needlessly worrying about him. Back in verse 4 he says, "My prayers even are filled with joy." Joy is the dominant attitude which he confesses. Chapter 2, "I rejoice," verse 17, "and share my joy with you all." Chapter 3, verse 1, "Rejoice in the Lord." Chapter 4, verse 4, "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I will say, rejoice!" “Don't be sad. Don't be sorrowful. Don't fret and worry. Rejoice; I am.” The joy of ministry.
Now, beloved, would you please note that the joy of ministry in the life of Paul was unrelated to circumstances? If his joy was related to circumstances, he wouldn't have had any joy. If his joy was related to pleasures in this earth, he wouldn't have had any joy. If his joy was related to possessions in this world, he wouldn't have had any joy. If his joy was related to freedom in this life, he wouldn't have had any joy. If it was related to prestige, he wouldn't have any joy. To outward success, he wouldn't have any joy. To a good reputation, he wouldn't have any joy. But it was all related to something completely other than that. It was all related to the ministry, and the joy in the ministry was, in the sense, absolutely indifferent to all other things.
As I read through verses 12-26, I found four aspects of Paul's joy in ministry. And you have them on an outline in your bulletin, if you want to hang on to that. We're going to be using the same outline for a couple of weeks. You will notice that he had joy in spite of chains, or trouble, as long as Christ's cause was furthered. He had joy in spite of detractors, as long as Christ's name is proclaimed. He had joy in spite of death, as long as Christ's glory is seen. And he had joy in spite of the flesh, as long as Christ's church was helped. These are tremendous insights which he gives us. This is the heart of this great man of God.
Now this morning I want us to look just at the first point. Paul had joy in the ministry in spite of trouble - in spite of physical chains and pain and incarceration and limiting of his liberty. He had joy as long as Christ's cause progressed, was furthered; verses 12-14, follow as I read it to you. Verse 12, "Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out rather for the progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear."
Now immediate human perception would say, "Well, he's in a terrible situation. It's little wonder if he has no joy at all, and if his ministry is totally crippled." But that is not the case, as is eminently clear in those three verses. Let's look at them more closely.
He begins by saying, "Now I want you to know," and that's just a little formula that's used often in ancient letters; it's even used in modern letters. You might use it in a letter you write. You might say to someone, "I want you to get this, or I want you to know this, or I want you to understand this." What you're saying is, “This is very important.” And you're also saying it might be misunderstood. So I'm sort of affirming to you – carefully go through this section because this may be different than you might have thought. It is the flip side of another phrase that Paul likes to use when he says, "I would not have you to be ignorant."
This is the positive side of that negative approach. It addresses something that's important, something that might be a bit surprising, something not obvious that needs to be understood. The assumption would be: “Paul's a prisoner; Paul's incarcerated; he's chained; woe is me. The gospel is shut down. The ministry is debilitated. The preaching is limited.” And he says, "Now, I don't want you to think that. I want you to understand this, that just the opposite is true."
Now by the way, he calls them "brethren," a term of endearment which he uses three other times in this epistle, 3:1 and 13, and chapter 4, verse 1. It just brings a tone of intimacy and fellowship and oneness. They are dear friends bonded in love to each other as children of God. So he speaks to them on that intimate, loving term. And then he says this, "I want you to know that this is the issue, that my circumstances." He uses that same little phrase in Ephesians 6:21 and Colossians 4:7, and he means by that “the condition I'm in, this whole deal of being a prisoner, being chained to a soldier, waiting to hear if I'm going to live or die, a very difficult situation, my circumstances,” he says - I love this – “have turned out rather for the progress of the gospel.”
You know what he's saying? God had a better plan than even I had. Instead of this thing shutting down the ministry, this has expanded the ministry. The good news is this has all turned out for the progress of the gospel. Now the New American Standard says, "for the greater progress," mallon, which they would translate "greater," I think would be better translated "rather," which is a proper way to translate it also. So that he is saying, “It's turned out rather for the progress of the gospel than what you might assume it would have caused.” I mean, when you're free to preach and all of a sudden you become a prisoner, you would assume that that would shut down the progress. Not so; not so at all. It has rather led to the progress of the gospel.
By the way, do I need to remind you that the progress of the gospel was the passion for which Paul lived? Can you ask yourself that question? What's the passion for which you live? What drives you? What sucks up your energies? What dominates your time? What dominates your thinking? What dominates your reading? What makes your life tick? What passion do you carry in your heart? Is it for the gospel? It was for Paul. It was of little consequence to him what happened to his own body, what happened to his own career, what happened to his own circumstances. The only thing that really mattered to him was the progress of the gospel. That was his passion.
Back in that wonderfully familiar twentieth chapter of Acts, where Paul distills his principles of ministry, he says, "I don't consider my life of any account as dear to myself." “I could care less about my life and my possessions, my clothes, my recognition, reputation, prestige - whatever it is - I just want to finish the course and the ministry I receive from the Lord Jesus.” And here it is: “to testify solemnly of the gospel.” “That's all I want to do.” In Romans 1 he says, "I am ready to preach the gospel." In 1 Corinthians 9 he says, verse 16, "Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel." The man is under compulsion. He was a driven man, to use a more contemporary term. And he was driven for the progress of the gospel. He lived for that. If the gospel progressed, nothing else mattered. Boy, what a model.
Are you so consumed with the progress of the gospel? With the light invading the kingdom of darkness? With the shattering of death by the life of God in Christ? Is that what drives you? Is that what compels your energies and your thought? The use of your money, the use of your time?
The word "progress" is a word we ought to look at, prokopē. It's an interesting word. It's not just a word that means progress in the sense that something “moves along.” It has inherent in it the idea that something is “moving along in spite of obstacles, danger, distraction.” In other words, inherent in the very word is “resistance.” It is moving in spite of resistance. That word is used, for example, in extra-biblical usages to speak of an army or an expedition that is “moving along.” The verb form, prokoptain, means literally “to cut down in advance.” And it pictures those who would go before an army, cutting down trees and hacking their way through undergrowth to make a path for the army to follow. So it is “progress against resistance, progress against opposition, progress against those things which would hinder the advance.”
So he says the gospel is advancing against obstacles. And the chief obstacle was his imprisonment. The chief obstacle was the hostility of Rome against the gospel. But far from binding the gospel and halting it, the gospel was advancing against these circumstances. The gospel means simply “the message of salvation.” Paul refers to it in verse 5, verse 7, verse 12, and once again in verse 27. So he refers to it here over and over again. The gospel is on his heart. It is his heart. It is his passion, and he lived to preach it, and he lived to advance it. And even though he was a prisoner, it was still being advanced. Opposition never stopped him, never.
First Corinthians 16 he says, "I'm going to stay here at Ephesus because there's an open door and there are many adversaries." And to the Thessalonians he writes, in 1 Thessalonians 2:2, that “we have preached the gospel amidst much opposition.” Never bothered him. In fact I think it's pretty traditional in the advancement of God's kingdom that opposition never stops the gospel. The Lord has His way.
I think about John Bunyan. Most all of us know John Bunyan as the author of Pilgrim's Progress. Prior to the writing of Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan was known as a great preacher. His preaching was so powerful that they put him in the Bedford jail to silence him, but he preached sermons at the top of his voice which wafted over the walls and people would gather outside the jail walls to hear him preach though they couldn't see him. They finally silenced him, put him down inside the jail, and they got him down there where nobody could hear him preach, and that gave him the freedom in order to write Pilgrim's Progress. And so they thought they could silence the preacher, but instead they gave him opportunity to write that which has preached to millions and millions and millions of people, generation after generation after generation after generation. And that's how it is. You cannot bottle up the gospel. The servant of God may be bound, 2 Timothy 2:9, but the Word of God is never bound, never bound.
And so, the message went forth. And like Joseph who said, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good," Paul can look at his captors and say, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for the furtherance of the gospel." Jesus Christ was killed as a common criminal because they wanted to shut Him up, but the very death He died destroyed sin, death, and Satan, and became the means of the salvation of all who come in faith to Him. The early church was persecuted. In the eighth chapter of Acts there was Saul “breathing out threatening and slaughter against the church,” and the threat of death scattered the church, and the scattering of the church was the evangelization of everywhere to which the church was scattered. So it is in the case of Paul. Every means to stop the message of Christ only furthers it; and this is Paul's joy, this is Paul's joy.
Now he focuses on two things, one in verse 13 and one in verse 14. First of all, he focuses on the advance of the gospel outside the church, and secondly, inside the church. The impact of his ministry outside the church and inside the church, to the unbelievers and to the believers.
Look at verse 13, first of all, and here he speaks of the tremendous results of his imprisonment outside the church: “So that my imprisonment and the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard” - I love this – “and to everyone else.”
Now this is amazing. Let's start where he starts, at the beginning of verse 13. He talks about his imprisonment “in the cause of Christ,” or “in Christ.” He always sees himself as a prisoner because of Christ. He wasn't a prisoner because he committed a crime. He didn't commit a crime. He was a prisoner because he preached Christ, because he believed in Christ, because he represented Christ. He told the Roman Christians that though he had done no wrong he was delivered a prisoner into the hands of the Romans (Acts 28:17). He tells the Philippians repeatedly about his bonds, or chains - three times in this first chapter. In Colossians, which he also writes from the same imprisonment, he speaks of his chains for the sake of Christ and calls on the Colossians in chapter 4 to remember his chains in Christ. He also wrote that little letter to Philemon, and in that he talks about the chains of the gospel (Philemon verse 9 and verse 13). He writes Ephesians, and in chapter 3, verse 1, he calls himself “the prisoner of Jesus Christ.”
So you always saw his being in prison as because of Christ. And that's what everybody else realized, too. Do you see verse 13? "My imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known." “Everyone knows that I'm a prisoner, not because I committed a crime, but because I preach Christ.” It became knowledge that this man was incarcerated for nothing more than preaching Jesus Christ.
By the way, in Acts 28:20 he speaks as being bound with chains. And in Ephesians chapter 6, and verse 20, he says he's “an ambassador in chains.” Usually the word is desmos, or desmous, plural. But in those two cases it's the word halusis. And that little word introduces us to a little more rich understanding of his condition. The halusis was a short chain. It was sort of like a little bit longer than a set of handcuffs, just a short chain. And it was placed over the wrist of a prisoner and over the wrist of the soldier. And they were in somewhat close proximity, maybe eighteen inches or so. And that was the chain, the halusis, that bound him to that Roman guard twenty-four hours a day. Escape was impossible; privacy was impossible. And though he was allowed a private house, night and day he was linked to that soldier, over two years.
Now think about it. What is the result of that? "My imprisonment for the cause of Christ has become well known." How did it get “well known”? "Throughout the whole praetorian guard." Why? Because those were the guys who were chained to him. Now you have to understand it's one thing for Paul to be chained to a soldier, and it's a whole other point of view to realize that a soldier was chained to Paul. Have you ever tried to evangelize someone who wanted to get away? Imagine being chained to Paul six hours. That could get a little heavy-duty. Boy, what an incredible, incredible missionary opportunity. I'm sure there were Christians in the Roman church praying, "O God, help us somehow to reach Caesar's household. Help us somehow to reach the elite corps of the praetorian guard. Help us to get the gospel into the high places. Help us to reach these people." And there was no way in. And so the Lord in His wonderful wisdom made the whole praetorian guard captive to Paul at six-hour intervals while he evangelized them all.
The results were very predictable. Can you imagine what the topic of conversation was? It wouldn't be hard to imagine, would it? They would see his character, his graciousness, his patience, his love, his wisdom, his conviction. And the result was that the praetorian guard became the second line of local evangelism, going out telling everybody about this man who was a prisoner for preaching Christ. It became “well known” or “manifest.” And it was widely understood that he was a prisoner because of his message, because of his zeal to preach Christ. And the praetorian guard were being converted. You say, "How do you know that?" Look at chapter 4, verse 22, when he closes the letter almost tongue-in-cheek; in verse 22 he says, "All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household." Little by little, the conversion of Caesar's household is taking place.
So, this confinement for being a gospel preacher gained him great attention. Great fame - his fame spread through the whole city. Multitudes were coming to him. Acts 28 says a multitude of Jews came. Some of them believed. And for the whole two years, Acts 28:30-31 says, "Crowds were coming and coming and coming and he was preaching the gospel." People were being converted. But the message was spread most effectively by those that were closest to him, the whole praetorian guard.
Now if you have an Authorized Version it probably says, and I'm sure it does, that it was well known throughout “the whole palace.” The term “praetorian” can refer either to a place or a group of people. The problem with translating it “palace” is that Paul was not in a palace; he was in a private house. Almost all commentators use it as it is most commonly used, and that is to refer to a body of people. And the praetorian was a group of soldiers. They were associated with the palace because they were the imperial guard for the emperor. Originally the word "praetorian" referred to “the commander's headquarters,” “the general's residence,” “the emperor's house.” It then came to mean any house of any famous, wealthy person of notoriety.
But none of those really fit this situation because he was in a hired house, not the palace. But it was also a word used to refer to the imperial guard that were responsible for guarding the palace and caring for the interest of the emperor, the imperial guard of Rome. Boy, they were an elite group, and I want to tell you a little bit about them so you'll understand what was going on here.
The “praetorian guard,” or the “palace guard,” the “imperial guard” of Rome had been originally instituted by Caesar Augustus. You remember, he was caesar at the time of the birth of Christ. They were a body of about ten thousand hand-picked troops. They were the first-rate men in the Roman army. Augustus had kept them dispersed throughout the city of Rome because they were the leaders of his presence there, responsible for keeping the peace and for marshalling strength against any opposition. Tiberius had concentrated them in Rome in a specially built and fortified camp, so they had high profile presence in Rome. They were a threat to any insurrection, any rebellion. And, of course, there was always the potential of a slave rebellion.
Vitellius had increased their number from the original nine or ten thousand to sixteen thousand. By the end of their term - which ran about twelve years early and ultimately sixteen years - by the end of their term they were granted all the highest privileges of citizenship and also a large sum of money. They became so powerful that they ultimately became the bodyguard of the emperor himself. And after that, they became so powerful that they literally became the king makers of Rome, and every emperor was the choice of the praetorian guard. Why? Because they were the power, they were the power. They could impose their will by force on the populace or on the leadership. And so they chose all the emperors - tremendously powerful men.
When Paul then arrived as a prisoner to Rome, he was put in charge of the prefect of the praetorian guard. And it was under the praetorian guard that he was kept prisoner. And so he was chained to one after another of these elite soldiers of Rome. What an impact. What an incredible opportunity.
And I might add to you that it wasn't just the ability of Paul to articulate the gospel that impacted those men. And it wasn't just his lifestyle of graciousness and love and mercy and gentleness and conviction. It was the fact that all of this truth and all of this character was coming out of a man in deep affliction. That was the context that made his message so viable, so believable, because they knew what he was suffering. And they knew his life was on the line. And they knew he could lay his head on a block and have an axe chop it off his body, if Nero so decided. And he knew it too, and they knew he knew it. And they must have been in awe of the man. I mean, we know there was no argument they could give that he could not answer. We know there was no characteristic that they would have looked for that he didn't demonstrate. And all of it out of suffering - his message was so believable. And the impact was that Caesar's household was starting to fill up with saints.
Now this became headline news, I mean, absolute headline news through Rome. It says in verse 13 - I love this - that it was “well known through the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.” Somebody says, "What does that mean?" Just what it says, “everybody else.” “Everybody else” where? “Everybody else” certainly in the palace; “everybody else” in Caesar's household; but “everybody else” in Rome. Rome wasn't so big that the word wouldn't spread. I mean, you'd know it. You'd know it if it started to happen in our country, something like that. I mean, if a revival, for example, hit the FBI, we'd know. The word would spread, and it spread. “Everyone else.” And people were coming to him then in crowds, and he was preaching and teaching. And here what looked like a disaster turns out for the progress of the gospel. And that's how God used him to evangelize Rome.
F.B. Meyer writes, "At times the hired room would be thronged with people to whom the Apostle spoke words of life. And after they withdrew, the sentry would sit beside him, filled with many questionings as to the meaning of the words which this strange prisoner spoke. At other times, when all had gone and especially at night when the moonlight shone on the distant slopes of Siracti, soldier and Apostle would be left to talk and in those dark lonely hours the Apostle would tell the soldier after soldier the story of his own proud career and early life, of his opposition to Christ and his ultimate conversion and would make it clear that he was there as a prisoner, not for any crime, not because he had raised rebellion over revolt but because he believed that He whom the Roman soldiers had crucified under Pilate was the Son of God and the Savior of man. As these tidings spread and the soldiers talked them over with one another, the whole guard would become influenced in sympathy with the meek and gentle Apostle who always showed himself so kindly to the men as they shared, however involuntarily, his imprisonment." And then he writes, "How absolutely consistent the Apostle must have been. If there had been the least divergence, day or night, from the high standard which he upheld, his soldier companions would have caught at it and passed it on to others. The fact that so many became earnest Christians and that the word of Jesus was known far and wide throughout the Praetorian Guard indicates how absolutely consistent the Apostle's life was," end quote.
You say, "Well, what does this say to me?" Do you ever think about your life? Somehow, some way you maybe say to yourself, "I can't go preach the gospel. I can't go spread - I can't be a missionary. I can't be a pastor. Maybe not even a Bible teacher. I'm stuck with my job." Hmm, that's an interesting parallel, isn't it? Are you chained to a desk? Are you chained to a place on the assembly line? Are you chained to a classroom? Are you chained to a car as you move around from place to place, meeting people in a sales position? Wherever you are, look at it as a point from which you can further the gospel. Whatever it is, live in your place, live in your chained place in such a way as to make the gospel believable. Maybe it's a hard place, probably not as hard as Paul's was. Maybe it's a difficult place. But that's all the more opportunity to demonstrate the reality of a transformed life, true? People say to me, "You know, it's awfully hard to be a witness in my job." My reaction is, “It’d probably be harder to be a witness if you had a perfect situation.” If you have a very difficult situation, you probably have the easiest place to be a witness because the contrast is so obvious and your character will be so manifest if under adversity you demonstrate Christ's likeness. That's the challenge.
So, the gospel was spreading outside the church. But it was also beginning to change inside the church, look at verse 14. The impact of Paul in his imprisonment was touching the church in this way, "and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear." Now the implication here is that before Paul's imprisonment the church was lacking a little bit of courage. Maybe they had a small amount of courage, but now they have far more courage. I can understand why they’d be a little hesitant. There was a growing hostility against Christianity. There was an antagonism against the gospel of Christ. Paul was living proof of that because he was a prisoner for preaching. And you can imagine that the church preachers were saying, "We want to be very careful because we don't want to end up in jail. We want to keep our freedom, so we don't want to say too much." So they lacked great courage and great boldness and that forthright, confrontive attitude that should belong to the prophet of God. And their general trend was to face that hostility with a little bit of fear and shyness, fearing that imprisonment might end their effectiveness, imprisonment might halt the progress of the gospel.
I think we in this country live a little under that illusion, that we want to be sure we maintain the freedom for the gospel to move, and we forget that in Communist China, when there was absolutely no freedom at all, the church grew to massive proportions and flourished better without that freedom than it has here with it - because we don't understand how God overrules the obstacles and how He purifies the church through adversity.
But, when they began to see Paul and his ministry and God providing for him and sustaining him and supporting him and keeping him and giving him this incredible outreach, and he was evangelizing Caesar's house and the Praetorian Guard, and the whole city knew about it and Rome was coming to him, and people were being saved, it says, verse 14, "most of the brethren." Pleionas means “majority,” not just many, but “the majority” of the brethren trusting. Or a better way to translate pepoitha is “having confidence in the Lord because of my imprisonment now have far more courage.”
And that's exactly what happened. They began to see the effectiveness of Paul. They began to see how God protected him. They began to see how God was using him in tremendous ways to evangelize Jews and Gentiles. And their courage was renewed and their zeal was increased and their boldness was strengthened by his brave example and the results of his ministry. And so, “they were trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment,” he says. “They were confident” - the verb means “to be certain, to be sure, to be confident, to trust.” And they believe that if God could minister through him in that condition, He could minister through them as well. And so his strength became their strength. What a tremendous truth. The example of his life touched them all. The impact of one life revolutionizing one whole church. And all these other brethren, all these other preachers began to be strengthened with “far more courage.” The Greek word here, “the abundance of courage to speak the Word of God,” which means “the divine revelation,” which is the gospel, and to do it “without fear,” “without fear” - fearlessly.
So, here is a man who has negative circumstances beyond our ability to understand them, chained to a Roman soldier. And yet he's a model of joy. Why? Because his joy isn't related to his comfort. His joy isn't related to his self-indulgence. His joy isn't related to his freedoms. His joy isn't related to his success. We'll find out it isn't even related to his reputation. It isn't related to any of those things. His joy is strictly tied to the advance of the gospel, so he has joy in his ministry, in spite of trouble, as long as the gospel is advanced, as long as Christ's cause is extended. His chains, in a sense, became an effective line of communication to these elite soldiers of the Roman Empire. And if they were converted, they would carry the message to the rest of the city and, for that matter, the rest of the world. And so he was rejoicing in the progress of the gospel.
Is that where you are? That's really the question. As you look at your own life, is your joy that sort of ebbing and flowing tide of earthly things? Does your joy rise and fall on your pleasure? On your possessions? On your prominence, your prestige, your reputation, your comfort, your fulfilled ambitions? Your almost unrealistic fantasies being realized? Is that where your joy is? If it is, you're going to ride the crest and sink to the depths. You're going to ebb and flow with the times of life, the changing times, the shifting sands.
But if your joy is tied to the progress of the gospel, and your life is committed to that end, then your joy is ever, ever undiminished. That's certainly my prayer for my own life and yours as well. Don't get caught on that roller coaster, that up and down of exhilaration and depression where you ride the crest of joy one minute and sink to the depths of despair the next, because everything is predicated on the shifting things of life. Fix your heart on the progress of the gospel, and it doesn't matter what happens to you as long as you can see God's kingdom being extended. And of course you have to be part of that extension in your prayers and in your efforts. And if that's what you live for, then that's what you rejoice in.
What is that passion of your life? What do you live for? If you live for that, if that's your passion, as you pour your life and your time and your energy and your money into the extension of the gospel, you're going to find your joy is there, too. Undiminished no matter what happens to you. That's how Paul had joy in ministry in the midst of very, very difficult circumstances.
Next week we're going to go to verses 15-18. I already studied it because I couldn't resist it, because the Lord used it to speak so profoundly to me about the joy of ministry in spite of detractors who think it's their role in life to speak evil against you. We're going to see how you deal with that. Don't miss it next time. Let's pray.
Father, we are so grateful for this rich Word. O what a blessing, what an insight. Help us, Lord, to be so lost in the passion for the progress of the gospel, for the cause of Christ, that our joy is solely attached to that and that we care little about other things. Help us to pour our energies, our time, our money, our talent, our skills, our minds, our hands, our feet into the cause of Christ, into winning people to the Savior, into instructing Christians so that they might be strong and more fruitful, into teaching the Word and discipling and doing all those things that do advance the name of our Lord Jesus. And may it be that our joy is attached to that and it knows no breaking point. For Your truth will advance, Your church will be built, and “the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” May we know that joy, that undying joy, that joy that knows no breaking point - that supreme joy. And may we say with Paul, "I rejoice; yes, and I will rejoice, no matter what." In Christ's name. Amen.